After years of discussion, a suicide-prevention fence is being installed at the bridge over the Quechee Gorge this month, and lots of Facebook commenters are committed to the idea that, in one person’s words, “if someone wants to take (their) life, nothing you do will prevent it.”
It’s a line of thinking that dominates our page every time we report on Quechee Gorge suicide issue.
But what do researchers have to say about the effectiveness of bridge-barriers in deterring suicides?
Two authorities on the issue — the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and a researcher working on behalf of the city of Atlanta, Georgia — say yes, bridge barriers are effective.
In fact, they say, research shows that suicide-prevention fences are “effective in preventing suicides from the bridge,” as the researcher, Andrew Pelletier, wrote in 2007 about a prevention fence that had been installed in Augusta, Maine.
And furthermore, “there was no evidence that suicidal individuals sought alternative sites for jumping.”
Pelletier’s research studied suicides at the bridge from 1960 to 2005. Fourteen suicides occurred before the fence was installed at the mid-point of that time period, in 1983, and zero happened for the remainder.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s report on the issue is embedded, in full, toward the bottom of this page.
Click here to download it.
The conclusion reads, in part:
In order to promote awareness of resources for help, it is further suggested that Lifeline and its network centers recommend that bridge or transportation authorities support the dissemination of public education materials, signage or other information about hotlines or other local suicide prevention assistance, as appropriate. However, the latter recommendation is best seen as a supplement to a barrier, as it alone is unlikely to significantly reduce bridge suicides. Above all, it should be made clear to inquiring authorities: barriers are the most effective means of preventing suicides on bridges. (Emphasis is theirs.)
Another point that stands out, regarding suicide hotline call boxes at suicide-prone bridges:
However, for other persons who come to the bridge that are consumed with psychological pain and intent on dying, relying on them to pick up the phone and call or text in that climactic moment places too much confidence in their capacity to still make a rational choice.
And the report directly addresses the “method substitution” argument — the idea that a suicidal person who is saved by a bridge barrier will find another way to die.
An investigation of this hypothesis was deliberately undertaken through a national survey in Switzerland, whereby suicide rates from regions with and without “suicide bridges” were examined to estimate the degree to which “method substitution” might occur (Reisch, Shuster & Michel, 2007). The researchers found that regions with bridges attracted more “suicide jumpers” than regions without bridges, including regions with other buildings or high places where jumps are occurring. After applying a formula to analyze the comparison, the authors estimated that 62% of individuals would not choose another place to jump from, and concluded overall that “method substitution” would not be significant (Reisch et al. 2007).
This finding supported the authors’ earlier investigations concluding that bridge barriers effectively reduce suicides in the regions where they are installed (Reisch & Michel, 2005). Similarly, a study of 515 persons who were restrained from leaping off the Golden Gate Bridge over a period of 40 years found that nearly 94% were still alive at the time of the investigation or had died from natural causes (Seiden, 1978). In general, research has shown that persons thwarted in utilizing a preferred method of suicide do not typically seek other approaches to kill him/her self (Daigle, 2005).
Should method substitution even be a consideration for transportation authorities? Even if method substitution concerns were considered to be valid, the degree to which such concerns are relevant from the perspective of a bridge or transportation authority is highly questionable. In general, opponents of barriers that cite the “method substitution” criticism are implying that a bridge or transportation authority should factor overall community suicide prevention effectiveness into their decision-making process. However, the primary responsibility of such authorities is to better ensure that commuters using their highways, bridges, tunnels or overpasses are protected from safety hazards. To the degree that individuals are killing themselves on their property and research shows that specific structures such as barriers can effectively prevent them from doing so, their serious consideration of barrier installation should therefore be paramount.
(BTW, h/t to Valley News Facebook commenter David Morin for the links!)
Last but not least, here’s a list of suicide prevention resources.
Via the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:
- Your Primary Care Provider
- Mental Health Professional
- Walk-in Clinic
- Emergency Depeartment
- Urgent Care Center
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
- 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Veterans: Press 1
Call 911 for Emergencies
Find a mental health provider:
Text TALK to 741741:
- Text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7